The tiny, endangered Indiana bat lives on Shaffer Mountain in northeastern Somerset County and that should be enough to keep 30 big wind turbines off that ecologically sensitive Appalachian ridge, according to three environmental groups.
The groups – Sensible Wind Solutions, Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society – yesterday served the Spanish-owned wind power company, Gamesa Energy, with a notice of intent to sue under the federal Endangered Species Act.
According to the notice, the site where the 404-foot tall turbines and 18 miles of service roads would be built on 22,000 acres of leased land is confirmed habitat for the Indiana bat, listed as an endangered species since 1967.
The formal 60-day notice is required by the federal law as a precondition for filing a lawsuit against an alleged violator.
The proposed turbine site, along the eastern edge of the Allegheny Plateau, has attracted widespread opposition because it’s in the watershed of two of the state’s “exceptional value” trout streams and is a migratory pathway for numerous raptor species, including the golden eagle. It’s also located in a Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Area of Exceptional Significance.
The notice was filed because the company has refused to discuss the environmental and wildlife impacts of the commercial wind turbines with the environmental groups, said Jack Buchan, co-founder of Sensible Wind Solutions.
“We simply cannot allow Gamesa to present itself to the public as a purveyor of ‘green’ energy,” Mr. Buchan said in a news release, “while it insists on building a project that will hasten the extinction of an endangered species, kill golden eagles and other migratory birds, and otherwise impair a unique ecological site.”
Gamesa officials yesterday declined comment.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has informed Gamesa that if it intends to proceed with the project it must file for an “incidental take permit,” which, if granted, would require the company to meet tough legal conditions. They include demonstrating that there are no feasible alternatives to killing endangered species and preparing a habitat conservation plan.
Gamesa has not filed such a permit application. Instead, the company has asked that it be allowed to go forward with the project based on its assessment that the project will have “low effect” on the species.
But the federal agency is concerned about the cumulative effects on the Indiana bat of this wind project and others, and told the company those effects could be significant.
“We believe [Gamesa] is proceeding with plans to construct the project and if it does will be in violation of the Endangered Species Act,” said Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing the environmental groups. “This notice gives the company an opportunity to comply with the law and if it doesn’t, puts us in position to proceed with litigation.”
Pennsylvania has no regulations for siting wind turbine projects or assessing their impacts on wildlife. Instead, it relies on unenforceable voluntary siting “guidelines” negotiated by the wind power industry and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
By Don Hopey
16 April 2008
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